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Offensive Line Rankings and Notes: Week 16

Offensive line related news, injuries and updates, prior to week sixteen of the regular season.

The final two weeks of the season are here and this article has become "the M.A.S.H. report" for the big men. There's just a ton of changes this week as most teams are dealing with major lineup changes due to injuries. The big men, the offensive line... let's get after it! 

UPGRADES

 

ATL + 6 

The Falcons' offensive line gets a modest boost as veteran left guard Andy Levitre is set to return to the lineup before this weekend's clash with the New Orleans Saints. Levitre had been dealing with a triceps injury and had been replaced by Ben Garland in the lineup. Garland only narrowly lost the battle for the right guard position in preseason against Wes Schweitzer. Garland has played extremely well in place of Levitre. Still, anytime a veteran returns to the starting lineup, the model is pleased. The Falcons' offensive line remains a top-tier option, either way.  

PIT + 2

Right tackle Marcus Gilbert returns to action this week after serving a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Gilbert had been dealing with a hamstring injury prior to the suspension and Gilbert did not contest the results as he needed the time off to heal. Gilbert spoke to the press this week and the nine-year veteran admitted he was not used to feeling this fresh and healthy at this late stage of the season. While Chris Hubbard did a very respectable job in Gilbert's absence and certainly looks to factor in the team's long-term plans, getting the mauling Gilbert in the lineup and healthy can only be good news for the Steelers' offensive line, not only for this week against a beat-up Houston defensive front but also in the playoff games to come.  

DEN + 13

After right guard Ron Leary went on injured reserve, the Broncos' offensive line plunged in the rankings. Leary had been the Broncos' most reliable lineman and usually, lines fall apart after they lose their best and most veteran player. But that's not what happened to when Connor McGovern took the reins two weeks ago. The Broncos' offense actually has been playing much better and McGovern is being talked about as next year's left guard starter after Leary returns. McGovern was the team's fifth-round pick in 2016 and with his emergence, the Broncos' offensive line could have another solid interior player to count upon not only this weekend at Washington, but in 2018. The Broncos' offensive line grades out as a mid-tier option in the latest rankings. 

DOWNGRADES

 

DAL - 2

Left tackle Tyron Smith was forced from the contest last week against Oakland and was ushered to the blue medical tent. Smith emerged from the tent without his knee brace and was declared done for the day. This week it was announced that Smith has a knee (LCL) sprain which, unhelpfully, could mean either a break of either days or months. The team did not disclose what grade the sprain was and that makes all the difference in predicting Smith's return. This article is going to assume that Smith will miss this week's game, based on his not practicing. Bryon Bell will likely take Smith's place again. Usually, a team losing their All-Pro left tackle would be catastrophic. But the Cowboys have such dominance at the center and right guard positions and that keeps their grade elite, even without Smith in the lineup.  

OAK - 8

Left tackle Donald Penn was injured during the game against Dallas and was placed on injured reserve this week. Penn had surgery on his foot and his streak of 170 consecutive starts will end when he misses the game Christmas Night against Philadelphia. In Penn's place, right tackle Marshal Newhouse slides over to left tackle while Vadal Alexander steps in at the right side. These are not bad options (relatively speaking), and the interior of the line is still dominant. Left guard Kelechi Osemele has been playing with unparalleled violence as the season winds down. The Raiders' offensive line still grade out in the top tier but they will miss their cornerstone, Penn.  

TEN - 4

Sometimes an offensive line grades out well on paper but for whatever reason, just underperforms in the games. This is the case with the Titans' offensive line. While left tackle Taylor Lewan remains a stalwart and left guard Quinton Spain has been solid when healthy, center Ben Jones and right guard Josh Kline have both struggled in recent weeks. Right tackle Jack Conklin has been prone to holding calls and the line as a whole just doesn't look good. So that's where we are, a nebulous performance based downgrade for a top-tier line that should be playing better than they currently are. The Titans' offensive line doesn't get a break this week as Aaron Donald and the fearsome Los Angeles Rams' defensive front comes to town in what has become a must-win game. 

WAS - 6

Left tackle Trent Williams has been playing through a kneecap injury for most of the year, knowing that injury required surgery in the offseason to heal completely. Williams has missed the last few games and it is safe to remove him from the lineup going forward. Williams told the media this week that he is focusing on his upcoming surgery and will only be used in an emergency situation in the final two games. Ty Nsekhe will take Williams' place. Nsekhe is one of the better swing tackles in the league, but it's still a big drop off from Williams.  Assuming their All-Pro left tackle returns in form next season they should reclaim their top-tier grade.  But for now, the Washington offensive line limps down the stretch graded as a low-tier unit. 

CHI - 11

Left guard Josh Sitton was seen after the game last week wearing a walking boot for his injured ankle. Sitton did not practice this week and seems like a long shot to play this weekend against the Cleveland Browns. With their other Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long already on injured reserve, the Bears' front office might be looking at Sitton's injury as an opportunity to shut him down and prepare both veterans for next season. Bradley Sowell replaced Sitton during the game and appears on track to get the start this week. Without Sitton (and Long) the Bears' offensive line grade out as a low-tier unit. 

GB - 2

Right guard Jahri Evans injured his knee and has not been practicing this week. With quarterback Aaron Rodgers on injured reserve again, the Packers' might choose to shift into evaluation mode and let some of the young players, such as Justin McCray or Adam Pankey could get reps. The Packers' offensive line is performing as a low-tier option as the season winds down.  

DET - 11

Right tackle Rick Wagner, right guard T.J. Lang and center Travis Swanson are all in danger of missing this weeks' game. It's gotten to the point that it's easier to talk about who is healthy (Graham Glascow, Taylor Decker) than who isn't. Wagner was limited in practice this week and could suit up this weekend. But the high number of these injuries make the Lions' offensive line tough to predict. It's probably going to be a motley crew this weekend at Cincinnati

OTHER NEWS

 

 AZ - C A.Q. Shipley only lineman to start every game this season. 

CAR - With RG Trai Turner out, Amini Silatolu played 100% of snaps.

CIN - LT Cedric Ogbeuhi (shoulder) left in 1Q, RT Andre Smith left in 4Q. Eric Winston is the next man up at tackle.

KC - C Mitch Morse to I.R. 

MIN - LT Riley Reiff missed game (Hill replaced, no change to rankings).

NO - RG Larry Warford concussion trying to make a tackle on INT return. 

SF - RT Trent Brown to I.R.

TB - RG J.R. Sweezy seen in a walking boot after the game (sprained ankle). 

FULL RANKINGS

  Rank Team Old Diff Score Overall Run Pass Notes                      
TOP TIER 1 ATL 7 6 31.05 A+ A- A- LG Levitre to return. 
2 PIT 4 2 31.03 A+ A A RT Gilbert returns. 
3 DAL 1 -2 30.73 A A A LT Smith (Bell). 
4 JAX 5 1 29.78 A A+ B+  
5 MIN 6 1 29.58 A A B+ LT Reiff (Hill). 
6 LAR 8 2 29.4 A- A- B+  
7 TEN 3 -4 29.25 A- A- B+ Performance based downgrade. 
8 PHI 10 2 29.2 A- A- B+  
9 SEA 9 0 29.13 B+ B A-  
10 OAK 2 -8 29.03 A A+ A LT Penn to IR (Newhouse). 
11 NO 12 1 29.03 B+ B+ B+ LG Peat (Kelemete).
MID TIER 12 BAL 13 1 29.03 B+ A- B  
13 BUF 14 1 28.98 B+ A- B  
14 LAC 15 1 28.78 B B- B+  
15 NE 16 1 28.78 B B B  
16 SF 18 2 28.6 B B+ B- RT Brown to IR (Beadles). 
17 NYJ 19 2 28.48 B B B  
18 CAR 20 2 28.35 B- B C+ RG Turner (Silatolu).
19 DEN 32 13 28.3 B- B- B- RG McGovern upgrade.
20 IND 22 2 28.2 B- B- B- C Kelly to IR (Person) .
21 MIA 23 2 28.18 C+ B- C RG Bushrod (Davis). 
LOW TIER 22 CHI 11 -11 28.15 C+ B- C LG Sitton (Sowell). 
23 WAS 17 -6 27.93 C+ B- C LT Williams (Nsekhe).
24 KC 25 1 27.9 C C+ C- C Morse to IR (Fulton). 
25 CIN 26 1 27.9 C C+ C- LT Ogbuehi (Winston).
26 GB 24 -2 27.85 C C+ C- RG Evans (John).
27 CLE 27 0 27.85 C- C- C-  
28 AZ 28 0 27.83 C- D+ C RG Watford (Boehm). 
29 TB 29 0 27.78 C- C- C-  
30 NYG 30 0 27.6 D+ D+ D+  
31 HOU 31 0 27.6 D+ D+ D+  
32 DET 21 -11 27.23 D D+ D- RG Lang & C Swanson likely out. RT Wagner could play.  

If there are any questions about a team or lineman not specifically talked about in this article, please feel free to contact me via Twitter.